AFL Finals Week 1 – Geelong v Fremantle: Upsets everywhere …almost

Score a footy and Cats gear

Score a footy and Cats gear

 

Geelong versus Fremantle (with a nod to Labor V Liberal and Pies V Port).

Qualifying Final, history in the making at Simonds Stadium.

 

If you’ve barracked for the Cats long enough a form of pessimism about their chances has been engraved in your psyche. Call it the genetic engineering of life experiences. Even the recent years of glory haven’t completely rewritten this blueprint.

So, leading up to Saturday’s qualifying final I’m concerned the talk and controversy about a home final will be a distraction, that, ridiculously, we’ll feel guilty about what’s actually reasonable, even if belatedly arranged, or that players might subconsciously relax thinking home ground advantage will get them over the line.

Some Melbourne media commentators predictably play their role painting Fremantle as the victim promoting conspiracy theories about Geelong’s involvement behind scenes. Though, I’m inclined to agree that the AFL’s primary motivation was money, not fairness.

Other commentators give the Dockers little chance of victory, pointing to home records as if they were as relevant for a final (that the only other final held in Geelong resulted in a loss adds to negative omens). Then Eddie McGuire tempts collective fate by protesting about venue availability for his team in Perth the following week.

Ah, Collingwood, that working class club with a born to rule mentality.

Meanwhile, Fremantle fly in under the radar, landing cosily at nearby Avalon to claim underdog status along with their luggage.

Despite this I still back a win. The morning of the game begins fine and sunny, but progressively deteriorates – the opposite of forecast. First upset of the day, though should work in our favour.

Freo fans only utilise half their ticket allocation, but a group of them loiter in Moorabool Street with a banner deriding the size of Simonds Stadium.

Inside, standing room is about three quarters full: whether that’s because of no-shows or under-allocating or for comfort is anyone’s guess. There are only two Freo fans nearby, in front – a woman at the terrace fence with a young boy.

Otherwise the stadium is packed. Usually Geelong crowds are relatively subdued, more like a cricket crowd, often only getting really excited when the game’s on the line – the Sleepy Hollow Effect? Today they are vocal from the start. The roar after the anthem is huge. During the game they even boo Freemantle players every time they take a set shot for goal, exhibiting previously unknown levels of parochialism. Maybe there’s a much larger contingent of the Melbourne-based chapter in attendance. Though, this is a day of history.

The Cats have ascendancy early but the inaccuracy trend carries over from last week belying any home ground advantage. Free kicks go our way to begin with and the crowd could be a factor.  “Just like we’d cop playing in Perth”, I say, feeling some satisfaction about the equity of it all.

Fremantle fight their way to a lead in the second quarter, and their supporters find voice and an expat unity. A Cats fan behind disapproves of Ross Lyon’s coaching style (on and off field): “Boring as batshit!” he yells at regular intervals. What he has to say about Zac Dawson is less printable.

It does appear Lyon has adopted his brand of ‘unsociable football’ – pushing the envelope of legality knowing umpires will ping some infringements, but let a lot go. It’s a successful tactic and evident in many grand final winning teams. And it works against us when minds aren’t quite right – gets under our skin, stops our creative flow.

We also make uncharacteristic errors: fumbles, miss-kicks, and wayward handballs. To borrow from Julia Gillard – Freemantle’s pressure explains some things, but it doesn’t explain everything. Our thinking caps aren’t on; we’re rushing, not playing our natural game.

In last year’s final Fremantle appeared bigger bodied, and it seems that way now. Our small brigade get the ball enough, but are rarely effective. Their tall rucks make us reactionary rovers.

We settle in the second half, look better, and edge our way in front, but concentration lapses in forward pocket ruck contests let Freo back in. Sandilands to Barlow – goal! “Man up Cats”, I say at the take-two throw in. Sandilands (and Clarke) to Hill crumbing – goal! I’m disbelieving at the Groundhog Day of it.

In the last quarter Fremantle sense victory and literally don’t give us an inch, much to the chagrin of the anti-Lyon fan behind. It is a war of attrition, but most of us enjoy the contest, even though it’s generally hard for players to break free and perform more than fleeting cameos. We have it in our forward half enough, but can’t find an avenue to goal. A tap-out from a boundary throw-in to Hill coming off the bench catches Cats napping again. He runs all the way to goal and takes any remaining wind out of our sails. Winning last quarters like this is usually our trademark.

Supporters tend to only see what their players are doing or not-doing (except when it comes to infringing) and, while great in our endeavour, it seemed there were times we didn’t work as hard as needed. Freo supporters might have a different perspective, but I never saw their players ease off.

The final siren signals the end of a great contest. The young Dockers fan in front leans over the barrier and slaps the tin with glee. The reality of Geelong facing the hard road dawns and the Cats crowd disperses. Freemantle supporters now don’t want to leave the stadium.

The man behind the anti-Lyon refrain wears the heated complexion of a coach after a bad loss. “What do you think?” he asks without expression.

I say we didn’t handle the pressure of expectation, but that doesn’t explain it. Two women join in. One says playing at home should’ve been a good thing. Maybe we were over-hyped, I offer as a reason for the skill errors. Better to be over-hyped than under, though.

But in reality, Fremantle won because they were better on the day …and hungrier.

We made skill errors like this against Sydney in 2011, the last time we lost at home. We won the flag that year. There’s other history I’d rather avoid comparison with – 2010.  Some history not yet created is totally unpalatable: a straight sets exit.

A lot of Geelong residents follow other teams and hate the Cats with venom. Many have moved here from elsewhere. They remind me of people who chose to live near an airport and complain about the planes. One of them sends an SMS asking what happened. It’s a preamble to a gloat.

Upsets continue that evening, but not with the election outcome – except it isn’t the rout predicted. On the ABC, Anthony Green’s nerdy enthusiasm amuses and lifts spirits. Barnaby Joyce’s ruddy-faced gloating causes a grab for the remote as Port Adelaide’s Jay Schulz soars to take a screamer. Julie Bishop’s iridescent blue wardrobe motivates similar channel surfing as the Pies draw level early in the third. Kevin Rudd is like an arsonist putting out his own fires, but eventually falls on his sword. Unbelievably, Port win by 24 points.

Confirmation Australians have elected another minority government is delivered by the big-eared budgie smuggler declaring victory to a rapturous crowd. Unsociable politics vindicated?

Labor out, Pies out, Cats teetering. I’m reminded of how Geelong’s fortunes have tracked Labor’s, both rising in 2007. Is this a changing of the football guard too? Port will approach next week with a nothing-to-lose and take-no-prisoners attitude. Geelong minds will need to be right. But I’m not being pessimistic. At least we won’t have to play another home final away against the Pies.

END

Comments

  1. Cat from the Country says:

    To beat Freo the opposiion needs to negate the player in front of Sandilands at every stoppage. He got away too easily and oten goaled or led to goal shortly after.

  2. Paul Spinks says:

    Good point. Vardy and Blicavs would’ve learned a lot from the experience.

  3. Neil Belford says:

    Good story – as I said all along, the ground would make no difference, the better team would win.

    But your ( thats the collective you) logic about the venue remains as tortured after the game as it was before. I dont know why Freo is painted as the villain in the piece or really is involved in the discussion at all – its one for the Geelong Football club to sort out.

    Why are you playing a home final away against Port then. Why do you play home and away season home games away against Collingwood. Why dont (the collective) you grow some nerve and insist on playing home games against Hawthorn and Essendon and Carlton… at Kardinia Park. Because your club wants to have its cake and eat it too. Your club likes you – the Geelong faithful to squark about home games at KP as if you would really like to play them all there but are cruelly denied that opportunity by the AFL – but you dont. The reality is you selectively only play interstate teams and losers there – hence your good record. The more than half of your membership and supporter base who dont live in Geelong wouldn’t have a bar of playing local heavyweights at Kardinia Park, and the club is very keen on the MCG revenue.

    When you can assemble a coherent argument that includes the sentence
    ‘At least we won’t have to play another home final away against the Pies.’ that has some hint of logical closure – as in
    1. playing them at KP is something your club actually wants to do, and
    2. it makes sense because that is where you normally would play
    I would be very interested to hear it. My overall point here is this is an internal argument for the Geelong football club to settle and until you do do you have no right to criticise Freo or any other club for turning up their nose at having to play a final at Kardinia Park (not that we mind winning).

    Fremantle has played two games on the MCG this year – one was a training run against Melbourne. If they make the grand final that will be the third game. Not only do we have to play off broadway everywhere, we don’t even get a look at the ground unless we get to the Grand Final. Thats fair isn’t it.

  4. Ken Richards says:

    Neil, the way I see it, the KP home final was a ‘concession’ to Geelong when, despite the top 4 ladder positions of the competitors, the final was not scheduled at the G as the Cats and the Dockers too might have preferred. This is an indication to us of Geelong’s and Fremantle’s position in the pecking order – we just do not rate against Collingwood, Carlton and Richmond when it comes to scheduling, even when you might thing the moral high ground was ours.

    As for the ‘interstate teams and losers’ tag for KP home and away games, I’ll argue that just like Subiaco for WA teams (and the home grounds of the other interstaters), Geelong gets a special advantage over the Melbourne teams which share the MCG and Docklands. So you might win more games, or win by a larger margin, or even lose by less than might otherwise have been the case. It is important in ladder positioning and the advantage that accrues from it. That little advantage that sees you finish 8th instead of 9th, in the top for instead of 5th, or indeed, top 2. For interstate sides, that means the benefit of a home state final, against teams less experienced in travel than the interstate teams. So you should not begrudge Geelong it’s home final. It certainly did not turn out as we had hoped. But that was down to what the opposition brought to the ground, than the venue itself. Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime is a fine slogan. Fremantle have shown it means something in one final so far. Repeat in two more and you may have something to crow about.

  5. Neil Belford says:

    Hey Ken – I dont begrudge you anything, my point is this is a discussion for the Cats to settle, and by the way you dont have to fly four hours in both directions every second weekend either, but this is nothing to do with Freo. How about this set of questions.

    1. Do you want to play home games against Collingwood et. al. at KP
    2. Do you think Brian Cook wants to play home games against Collingwood et. al. at KP
    3. Do you want to play home finals against Collingwood et. al. at KP
    4. Do you think Brian Cook wants to play home finals against Collingwood et. al. at KP

    Interested to hear your answers.

  6. Skip of Skipton says:

    Geelong play home games at the MCG and Etihad against the bigger drawing clubs like Collingwood and Essendon because 50,000-90,000 people don’t fit into Kardinia Park. It is also a policy to play 2-3 games a year in Melbourne for the benefit of the large Melbourne based membership.

    Geelong make more money from a home game at Kardinia Park, than they do a blockbuster at the MCG.

    As for ‘selectively playing losers’ at KP; Both West Coast and Sydney played there in 2006. Heavy-weights Brisbane and Port Adelaide played there many times in the early 2000s. Since 2007 almost every team falls into the category of ‘loser’ when compared to Geelong. Get a grip.

  7. Neil,
    you’re being disingenuous. Well, that’s the gentlest interpretation of your quartet of questions. It makes sense, in the inscrutable East anyway, to play games where they fit. Would anyone really insist a game that might attract 80,000 people be played at a ground that holds 32,000? There were empty seats at K Park on Saturday. Get yourself a multitude of eastern seaboard dullards like the pies have and you, too, can play at the G. Until such times you’re off Broadway.
    As to your whinge about the four hour flight each way every second weekend, well… Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis once fought a notional super fight. You can watch it on Youtube. I won’t spoil it by telling you who wins. Only to observe neither of them had to rise from their armchair to get it on. No hideous air travel for either participant. Maybe the Dockers can embrace notional football?
    Cheers, ajc.

  8. Paul Spinks says:

    G’day, Neil. Thanks for your comment.
    Well, the F.A. email brief was to be as parochial as we like, so I was. Though bias is in the mind of the beholder. The closing sentence was tongue in check, but perhaps I need to hone my irony.
    Of course we want to have our cake and eat it too. What club doesn’t?
    As for last Saturday, had the AFL scheduled the game at Etihad I would have happily gone there, just as I would happily go to Kardinia Park this Friday night (apart from the extra fees the AFL extracts)
    Would we like to play home games against Collingwood etc at KP? You betcha.
    It is blurred because a lot of Geelong fans do live in Melbourne (though I doubt your stats over half our members live in Melbourne, if that’s what you suggest by “outside Geelong”).
    In fact the whole issue is fuzzy with arguments about attendance, money, fairness, Melbourne versus Geelong, and Victoria versus the rest of Australia.
    The AFL needs to have a policy and stick to it. If it said the highest place Victorian side plays home finals at the MCG because it’s a neutral venue and no club has ownership of it, then the Collingwood/Port game would have been played at Etihad and Cats V Freo at the ‘G.
    Of course that would create anomalies if the Pies were playing another Victorian side. Can we live with a half empty stadium while supporters are locked out of a smaller venue when swapping venues would allow everyone to go? What comes first, fairness or attendance?
    OR, if it had a policy that Geelong home finals against interstate teams will be played at Kardinia Park then we would all know where we stood in that regard.
    But, you see, the AFL want’s to have it’s cake and eat it too and keep it’s options open depending on which teams make the finals.
    What were the “good in parts” part of my piece? I’d be keen to know.
    Paul

  9. Paul Spinks says:

    PS: Neil.
    Odd. The email version of you post said “good story in parts”, but the online version is unqualified, so you can disregard the last part of my response. Though I was interested in the feedback.
    Paul

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